David Watford looked good much of the day.
Virginia held an open football practice and live scrimmage at Scott Stadium on Saturday. The event saw only a handful of spectators and nearly an equal number of media and recruits. Head Coach Mike London was especially interested in seeing how his quarterbacks would fair in a more game-like environment.
London said prior to the game that he was looking for “a limited amount of errors, some completions, command of the huddle – just so many things you try to ingrain in them now that coaches are off the field. We’ll see how they can handle what we’re asking them to do. It will be a big day today for them.”
Coach London got what he was looking for on the first play from scrimmage when David Watford hit Tim Smith in stride on a deep ball, a play that went for 79-yards before Maurice Canady stopped him at the 1-yard line. Watford and Smith would hook up again later for another deep route.
Three quarterbacks saw action, and each had their ups and downs. While Watford started the scrimmage on fire and seemed fairly consistent throughout, he was intercepted twice near the end of practice on back to back drives; once by Maurice Canady on an out pattern and another just a few plays later when Brandon Phelps snagged one and returned it about 40 yards down the ‘home’ sideline.
Greyson Lambert had some good moments as well, including a deep sideline pass to Tim Smith , who made an excellent diving catch. He also hit Dominique Terrell for a 15-yard touchdown. But Lambert had his share of woes as well. On two drives he had three passes battled down at the line of scrimmage; two from Brent Urban and another by Jake Snyder .
Phillips Sims participated as well and had some nice moments, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Terrell after the defender had fallen down. Sims appeared to have another touchdown set up when he launched a 40-yard bomb to Terrell, but redshirt freshman Wilfred Wahee made a sensational play to break up the pass in the back corner of the end zone.
Speaking of pass breakups, there were quite a few including another involving Terrell where Canady dislodged the ball and Phelps gave him a pop for good measure.
Eli Harold and Mike Moore made life difficult for an offensive line unit still trying to find the right combination. While there was success at times and some deep patterns, the defensive line was getting good push most of the day. Harold had a fantastic game overall, including some hard hitting tackles. Moore seemed to be within arm’s reach on a number of pass rushes and got to Lambert once late in the practice session. The times I was watching, Morgan Moses appeared to have a good day protecting the quarterback’s blind side. He had a good battle with Harold and is starting to look like the Morgan Moses we expected to see last year.
Khalek Shepherd stole the show on Saturday.
The offensive unit was inconsistent compared with the defense, but that’s to be expected in the spring. It didn’t help the quarterbacks that several veteran receivers had multiple drops, including Terrell and Darius Jennings . But there was one receiver besides Smith who was not dropping passes today. Keep an eye out for redshirt freshman Kyle Dockings this year. He made a number of catches including one in tight traffic across the middle. E.J. Scott added a 20-yard touchdown pass on a fade to the back border of the end zone.
Both Khalek Shepherd and Clifton Richardson had excellent games. There were a number of long runs for both players, including two really nice runs by Richardson. Richardson had a 30-yard run down the sidelines and added a 9-yard touchdown run up the middle. But the day belonged to Shepherd, who was running loose in the secondary often. Shepherd started off by adding a score on a short yardage play early in practice. Afterward he picked his way through gaping holes all along the left side for much of the game. He caught the edge a number of times for first downs. Kye Morgan had the best short yardage run of the day when he ran over a defender on a 6-yard gain, which resounded in a helmet to helmet pop that echoed throughout the stadium and got a noticeable reaction from the team and fans.
Virginia has found a consistent punter who can minimize returns. Every punt from Alec Vozenilek had great hang time, and most had excellent distance. Special teams play overall wasn’t to special, but there were two other highlights on the day. The first came when redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Thomkins blocked a punt attempt by James Coleman. The second was a field goal attempt that was blocked by Maurice Canady .
One of the most entertaining moments came very late in practice at the end of the two-minute drill exercise. The final play of the drive was a touchdown pass from Lambert to tight end Jake McGee , who immediately broke into a dance that matched the rhythm of the music playing through the stadium’s loudspeakers. WINA’s Jay James, who was standing next to me, coined it the “McGee Jig”. During the two minute drill, Jamal Brown, Darius Jennings and Clifton Richardson all made excellent catches to keep the drive moving.
There’s a lot of work for this team to become competitive by fall, but there are more solid units than not at this point. The secondary, defensive line and running back corps all looked good today. Improvement is greatly needed from the receivers and offensive line. The kicking needs to become more consistent, although the punting situation is in good shape. And it’s anyone’s guess which quarterback will be named starter, but Watford looks the part at the moment.